East Greenwich woman sentenced to 70 months in stolen valor case

PROVIDENCE – An East Greenwich woman who admitted to fraudulently claiming to be a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with lung cancer who falsely accepted more than $250,000 in benefits and contributions was sentenced to nearly six years in jail Tuesday. 

Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 31, who pleaded guilty on July 1 to fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery and fraudulent use of medals charges, was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release, WPRI-TV CBS 12 reported Tuesday. She also has been ordered to pay more than $250,000 in restitution. 

Cavanaugh claimed to be a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient despite no record of ever serving in the military. 

“At the time she did so, she was neither ill nor a veteran – Cavanaugh has never served in the U.S. military in any capacity,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Gendron wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed on March 10. 

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Cavanaugh’s defense attorney, Kensley Barrett, requested that Cavanaugh be sentenced to two years in prison, arguing that it would be “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” WPRI-TV reported. 

On July 1, Cavanaugh admitted to creating fraudulent documents from the medical record information of a U.S. Marine veteran and a cancer-stricken U.S. Navy veteran she obtained while working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence. She then allegedly created a scheme that helped her obtain more than $250,000 in cash, charitable donations and other services reserved for injured veterans, Cunha said. 

“Every day, thousands of American men and women honorably serve this country in uniform,” U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said when Cavanaugh pleaded guilty. “They sacrifice for our safety, putting themselves in harm’s way, often without praise or public recognition, and they deserve our thanks and our respect. This defendant sought to trade on that respect – respect she did not earn, evoked by a uniform to which she had no claim – by pretending that she was a United States Marine battling stage IV cancer in order to trick generous members of the public into lining her pockets. Her conduct is disgraceful, and it richly warrants her conviction today as a federal felon.” 

Two months after Cavanaugh’s arrest, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing the prosecution of those who falsely represent themselves as a member of the military or a veteran. At the state level, the crime would be punishable by a year in prison and or a fine of up to $1,000.